In a recent survey, it was found that there are two billion active users on Instagram. Two billion! That statistic is staggering, and it captured your attention, didn’t it? Every powerful story begins with a strong hook; ads are no exception.
How can you expect to reel in customers if you don’t hook them first?
Strong hooks in literature
The best place to start is with books, in which hooks have wooed us for centuries.
If you’re a veritable bookworm, you know the feeling of perusing the shelves for your next read, flipping book after book open until a first line catches your eye. There are thousands of books to choose from, so you don’t linger on an uninteresting beginning. This is why a strong hook is so essential.
Let’s go through a few powerful first lines from some of my favorite books and determine why they work.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo — Shock value
When I was trying to think of hooks to include in this blog post, the first line of Ninth House popped into my head immediately, even though I read it a whopping three years ago.
“By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.”
Bam! Now that is how you get someone's attention. Bardugo chose the route of “shock value” to entice her audience. With this type of hook comes a slew of questions. In this case: Why was there blood on her coat? Whose blood was it? Why is she so nonchalant about it?
How can you translate this literary tactic into commercial work? By shocking consumers so much so that they are compelled to go deeper into the story your ad is telling. Plus, the more questions your hook generates, the more consumers will be tempted to continue reading/watching.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi — Sweeping contradiction
Next up we have the sweeping contradiction, where an author attracts its audience by making a vast statement that flips itself on its head by the end of it.
“Independence changed everything. Independence changed nothing.”
Joshi’s opening is thought-provoking, with layers to peel back. What could it mean? Wouldn’t you read on to find out?
Get consumers’ wheels turning with your hook. It can simply be a sweeping statement, the contradiction removed. Once engaged, consumers will be locked in for the duration of your ad.
Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham — Tugging heartstrings
Tugging at people’s heartstrings is a nearly infallible way to enrapture an audience. Humans feel deeply. Use that to your advantage.
“Walt said that the dead turned into grass, but there was no grass where they’d buried Simon.”
What a melancholy line. Who is poor Simon? Cunningham bursts the romantic bubble of this post-death fantasy, demanding his audience’s attention by plaguing them with a sense of sorrow before they even know the narrator or their relationship to Simon.
Emotional marketing plays the same heartstrings. Cast a moving line and consumers will do the rest for you, hooked by their own compassion and empathy.
Circe by Madeline Miller — Piquing interest
Piquing an audience’s interest should be the backbone of every hook, as seen in the ones we just went over. Without interest, consumers won’t give your brand a second thought.
“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”
Who could put this book down without first learning of the main character’s history and identity? It sets you up for a lesson of sorts, what in marketing would be more information about your brand.
Curiosity should be nourished. Feed consumers just enough info to fire up their appetite for your brand.
Statistics meet storytelling
While stats are not often seen in the first lines of books, they are often seen in ads. Generally a foolproof way to build intrigue in consumers, stats can make for a strong hook. Elicit surprise, delight, fear, outrage, and more with your opening stat.
Follow up a stat with a story not another stat.
Consumers relate to people not numbers, though numbers are helpful when sparingly sprinkled.
There’s nothing people love more than being asked about themselves or for their opinion. It’s the narcissist in all of us.
Starting your ad with a question ushers consumers into your ad’s story, positioning them as active participants, rather than audience members simply being talked at.
You could also pose a rhetorical question, one that nicely sets up your ad and grounds consumers in its theme.
Compelling hooks sell
At the end of the day, compelling hooks sell, from shocking consumers to plucking at their sensitive heartstrings.
A weak beginning kills an ad before it has time to make an impact.
It’s a cluttered commercial world out there. A strong hook stands out.
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